Advent Reflections Day 1 – To Bethlehem and Beyond

First Sunday of Advent Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

"For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed."  Romans 13:11

Those words from St. Paul in today's first reading hit home particularly hard with me.  In all the years of attending Sunday school at the fundamentalist Protestant church in which I grew up, there really is only one lesson I remember.  I was probably fifteen or sixteen years old, and felt like I had this whole Christianity thing figured out by that point.  I vividly remember the teacher (who was the father of another kid in the class) tell the story of an old man who, throughout the various stages of his life, had put off fully committing himself to Christ.  "Let me finish high school, then I will give my life to Jesus," he said.  A few years later, "let me finish college," then I'm His."  College came and went, but the man kept finding reasons to kick the can down the road as the years passed by.  Marriage, career, raising children - "I'm much too busy to follow Him right now.  Maybe when I retire."  The one thing I don't remember about the story from that Sunday morning long ago was how it ended.  Did the man keep putting off his salvation until it was too late, or did he finally, at some point, pick up his cross and follow Jesus?  Either way, the story made a profound impact.  Little did I know then that the man would be me.  I think there's probably a little of each of us in that story.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus warns his disciples "Watch therefore, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming."  (Matthew 24:42)  Taken as a whole, the readings for the first Sunday in Advent remind us that it is a season not only for anticipating the Incarnation--God becoming man and entering our world, but also Christ's glorious Second Coming at the end of time.  Of course, most of us will no longer be walking the earth whenever that takes place.  But that fact does not lessen the gravity of Jesus's warning.  For none of us are promised tomorrow, and "at an hour you do not expect," each one of us will be standing before the judgment seat of God.

As He does each and every day, God offers us the opportunity to rededicate ourselves and follow Him anew this Advent.  Consider, for a moment, all of the different people who must have come into contact with Mary and Joseph on the (roughly) 90 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  If they had known that this ordinary, teenage Jewish girl carried the Savior of the world--the very God that created the heavens and the earth--in her womb, how many would have dropped everything, followed the Holy Family on their journey, and in so doing, prepared themselves for the birth of the King of Kings?  We have that same choice once again today.    So let us "wake from sleep," "put on the armor of light," and prepare ourselves for the birth of our Lord and His return.  And in accompanying Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, may we go beyond "up to the mountain of the Lord . . . that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."  (Isaiah 2:3)

God love you.

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